If pro-life work is advanced by a quiet but steady resolve in defence of innocent, unborn life, then Toronto’s Bill McArthur certainly was an exemplary pro-lifer.
Bill died February 19 at the age of 73. He had been in declining health due to lingering problems related to asthma and weakened lungs.
A long-time employee of Canadian National Railways, Bill was one-half of a committed pro-life husband-and-wife team. His late wife Laura McArthur was executive director of the Toronto Right to Life Association from 1982 until 1990. While Laura had the higher pro-life profile during the 1980s, Bill played a quieter, behind-the-scenes role, which involved picketing and fund-raising efforts. With his wife’s passing in the early 1990s, Bill increased up his pro-life work.
Joanne Dieleman, executive director of Aid to Women in Toronto, recalled Bill as a regular presence outside the Cabbagetown abortion clinic on Gerrard St. East. She said he was an avid cyclist who often pedaled downtown from his home to witness to life in this special way.
“He could always be counted on to help out with special projects and other efforts,” she added.
Bill was known to be generous with his time in support of the pro-life cause, whether it was spent picketing, helping with the annual Campaign Life Coalition Christmas cake sales, or filling in for odd jobs.
Long-time Campaign Life Coalition supporter Mary Burnie said McArthur brought a friendly, caring presence to all pro-life witnessing efforts. Burnie said McArthur and fellow activist Tom Brown, who died in 1999, endured bitter weather, insults, arrests, and public apathy to maintain their public witness.
“We sometimes felt Bill was too nice for his own good,” Burnie said. “Even during the course of ongoing picketing, he would take time to help out the panhandlers and street people who asked him for a handout.”
Bill had a lively sense of humour that showed itself in trying times. Writer and activist Grace Petrasek recalled that McArthur’s sense of humour served him well, especially as he tended to his ailing wife in her final months.
“There was almost a military precision with which he tended to Laura back then,” Petrasek said. “But he still had time to make friends and visitors feel welcome at their home. He wasn’t much of a cook, but he always offered a glass of sherry to guests.”
Petrasek suggested that McArthur’s support, patience and energy enabled his wife to take on an even greater workload during her tenure as head of the Toronto Right to Life association.
Bill McArthur’s funeral Mass was celebrated February 22 at Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin parish in Don Mills.